Does Imposter Syndrome Keep Writers Honest?
Imposter syndrome is the bête noire of the writing world.
Achieve a modicum of success and suddenly you’re expected to rise above it, pretend you know what you’re doing, appear invulnerable. All the while, you’re probably still second-guessing yourself in secret but heaven forbid anyone should know.
Not every writer will openly admit to tangling with imposter syndrome, and yet it is universal.
Instead of raw honesty, some will entice you with woo-woo quick fixes and shortcuts in listicle format promising instant reward so you sign up to some mailing list. Or buy their course or writing software so you can replicate their success, as if good writing were a matter of knowing the secret or having the right equipment.
They posit their success can be scaled and replicated ad infinitum while ignoring one crucial point: We all have a different voice. This means we all use language differently. Sure, you could turn yourself into a clone of someone you admire but then you’ll never find your own voice or style.
And unless your business is ghostwriting, why would you want to sound like somebody else?
Imposter syndrome is rampant among the creative classes.
Many of us keep seeking unattainable perfection, and if you’ve ever revised a text into oblivion, you’ll know what I mean. Perhaps you even abandoned it because you couldn’t trust yourself to either pitch it or publish it.
The fear of failing in public is the terminal stage of imposter syndrome and can lead creatives to hoard their work instead of sharing it. Being terrified of judgment, of not being good enough can paralyze you and put the kibosh on your creative endeavors. If not sharing your work insulates you from failure, it doesn’t help you find an audience.
Every voice matters, but you’ll never be heard if you don’t use yours.
If you’re starting out or trying to get back on the horse after a long hiatus like me, you may be having a hard time believing so and may need reminding daily until you internalize this belief.
For example, I write about hardship and depression, the latter a mental illness that tends to undermine its host at every turn. In this context, nailing a word to the page and publishing anything is never a given but always a struggle.
With every single piece.
As you work on building an audience, it’s not unusual to feel uncomfortable. You question the validity of your message and your ability to deliver it; your pen stalls. But the more you convince yourself no one cares, the quicker you’re likely to give up.
The key to making the most of imposter syndrome is to push through the discomfort of feeling like a fraud.
In other words, stretch and grow instead of giving up because you don’t trust your work to be any good.
Self-doubt is healthy.
It’s a sign you’re taking the craft of writing seriously and approaching the page with the humility required to learn, improve, and grow.
This is not a competition. Someone else’s success doesn’t take anything away from your ability to reach for the same if that is what you want.
But beware of appearances: There’s no such thing as an overnight success, ever. You must put in the work and fall flat on your face a few times first as you figure out what works for you. And, for most of us but the supremely gifted (or the well-connected), it’s a long, hard slog that can take some time. What’s more, being widely read and a household name aren’t the only ways to measure your worth as a writer.
In America, fame is often viewed as the only benchmark for success. From a young age, Americans are pitched against one another and socialized to be competitive. This makes for a toxic environment fueled by individualism and, often, greed.
If you’re neither pushy nor a show-off, this can prove overwhelming.
But you don’t have to adopt a cutthroat mindset to thrive.
Instead of chasing numbers, why not focus on reaching just the one fellow human at a time?
To know that I’ve helped one person in a small way is often reward enough for me because it reinforces the ethos of service behind my work.
If you focus on numbers, you’re likely to get disheartened fast. But if you slowly hone your voice by writing about your own experience of being a human in the world, your definition of success will shift soon enough.
You’ll realize you do have something worthwhile to contribute despite your initial misgivings. And when readers start chiming in with comments or feedback, self-doubt will lessen somewhat.
Because the conversation is always richer and more enlightening when everyone joins in, including you. Feeling like a fraud is nothing but a fail-safe mechanism that doubles up as quality control and encourages you to produce your best work.
And instead of trying to shut up your inner critic, make sure it never falls silent: It is an essential tool to help you grow as an artist, no matter what level you are at.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.